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Brazilian Dialogue

Unassuming, gentle man delighted to see book in print

The next morning we went off with Valdete, another of our sisters who runs a kindergarten in a poor area on the outskirts of the city. Judite explained that we would take the bus, as Valdete does every day, to get a feel for the city. That in itself was an experience. It took us nearly an hour to get there and my feeling was that Salvador was one very large favella. Incredible.

There were large areas of green spaces, almost like we were in the countryside, but then more houses, crowded on top of one another. In one area, right on the water's edge, there was a whole settlement of shacks built over the water on stilts. I wondered how people could live in this already damp climate, right on top of the water.

We got back rather late for lunch that day because of having to wait so long for the bus. Judite was already there waiting for us to have lunch and then to take us to meet Henrique and the community.

Judite was quite happy for this opportunity, because, as she explained to us, she had met Henrique on several occasions, but had never gone to visit the community or really talk to him. A woman called Adina joined us for lunch and would accompany us. She was a friend of Judite's and was also part of the community of Henrique. The church where the community lives happened to be near the square where we had visited earlier.

The street was crowded with people, many dressed in white, dancing to the loud music that seemed to envelop everyone. We climbed the hill up to the large church, which we later learned had been empty for some years and was given recently to Henrique and his community as their place to welcome the street people.

And then we met Henrique. An unassuming, gentle man, thin, with longish brown hair and a beautiful smile. I had brought my copy of his book in English and his childlike delight was obvious when I showed it to him and he showed it to the others. He smiled when he saw that he had been called "Henrique" in the book ("Henrique" is how "Eric" gets translated into Portuguese).

The church is dedicated to the Trinity, which is the centre of Eric's spirituality. Behind the altar was a beautiful large painting on canvas: it is basically Rublev's Trinity, but here the Trinity is joined at their banquet table by numerous street people. There is joy, light, warmth in this scene where no one is excluded.

There were many other versions of the Trinity icon in different places in the church. In his book, Eric often speaks of the "sweet" Trinity. Eric seemed to carry in his person an extraordinary mixture of sweetness and pain. He certainly carries the weight of the 10 years he spent on the street with the homeless. He explained how he and the community had spent the first six months cleaning out the rubbish that was in this abandoned old church. At the moment the "community" is made up of 18 persons: four permanent members and 14 homeless people.

Darlene DeMong, NDS